Courgette Eating 2012…

I ate the first courgettes from the garden last week.  This is so much later then usual, they’d normally be cropping from June onwards, after sowing seed indoors in April.  For regular readers, you might remember that none of my seed germinated this year.  I’d normally have courgettes Defender & Soleil on the go, so that I have a nice mixture of green and yellow skinned fruit, but this year I picked up two unnamed plants from the local garden store, they are cropping nicely, producing plenty of neat green fruits.

It’s a kind of tradition (for me!) that I make pasta with courgette, mint & feta with the first crop, partly because it’s delicious and partly because due to my ever expanding waistline, which I am attempting to shrink, pasta features so rarely on my table so it’s quite a treat.  The original recipe comes from Apples for jam by Tessa Kiros, but I make it slightly differently and prefer fresh mint to dried and spaghetti to angel hair pasta.

Courgette, mint & feta pasta

1 medium courgette (or 2 small)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly squashed (so it stays in 1 piece)

1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

40 g feta

80-100 g (depending on how greedy hungry you are)

lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste

olive oil

I like to make up the ‘sauce’ in advance, as I eat separately to my boys and long before my husband is home from work, I need tea (or ‘dinner’ to non-northern folk 😉 ) to be quick and easy.

Slice the courgettes quite finely. Add to a bowl, coat in olive oil (if you do it this way, instead of oiling the pan and adding the plain courgettes, you’ll need less oil, you can always add more for flavour if you aren’t worrying about the calories), season (go easy on the salt as the feta is quite salty) add the garlic clove, mix together then fry in a large pan.  Make sure the garlic doesn’t burn, it’s really just there to flavour the oily courgette mixture and ideally let the courgettes brown a little by leaving them in a single layer in the pan and don’t overcook.  Fry in batches if you’re making a larger or double portion so you can get some browned bits.

Remove to a bowl, leave to cool.  Crumble your feta on top of the cooked courgettes, and add the mint and a good squeeze of lemon juice.  This is the stage I make up in advance and store in the fridge until I’m ready.

When ready, cook the pasta to the packet instructions, add the contents of the courgette bowl.  Check the seasoning and eat.

It’s such a simple dish but one I always look forward to.  I can imagine a knob of butter melted into the whole lot at the end tastes heavenly, but as above, I daren’t add any extra fat, I still have a lot of baby weight to lose (ha ha, my youngest is 5!!!).

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March Planting Lists…

For those living in the UK, I don’t need to tell you we are experiencing some glorious weather here at the moment.  The down side to all this early sun (and we are talking shorts and T-shirts…we are British so you have to forgive the tendency to get legs and arms out at the slightest hint of blue skies) is it has been announced that a hose pipe ban will begin in the new few days.  It’s not that I spend endless hours watering my garden, but I do like to keep the vegetable patch damp enough to let the seedlings and slug nematodes (which I put on a few days ago) have half a chance and this coupled with the fact I am lazy busy means things will become more difficult, and the waterbutt with it’s lovely bird tap is nearly empty.  I think I need to invest in more for nest year.  Hey-ho, it’s the way it needs to be but I am wavering on maybe cutting back on my planting plans….so far, we have added to February’s lists (and planted under cloches, outside):

Beetroot – Pronto & Burpless Golden

Broad Beans – Crimson Flower

Turnip – Snowball

Peas – Ronda & Sugar snap

Radish (to add to those already planted) – French Breakfast

Inside I have started off some

Courgettes (Defender x 2 & Soleil x 2).

I am itching to put more in but the other thing to consider is even though we are having glorious days, the night temperatures are still quite low and I hear this sunshine might not last.  In fact there was talk of snow ‘Up North’ over the weekend.  The other things is we are planning a few days away soon so I wont be able to water any seedlings and there is little point setting them off. The plus side is that we have some lovely Spring flowers well into bloom.
The anemones in my cutting patch are showing off nicely and the narcissus are about to have their turn, along with the tulips.  I tried in vain to take a decent photo but it’s just too bright out there, causing too much shadow and washed out colour.  You’ll just have to trust me that the Spring flowers are looking very lovely.

What a mess…

I once said to one of the Mum’s from school, who at the last minute was popping back to my house for a coffee, “please excuse the house, it’s a bit of a mess.”  I think she was a bit shocked to find out it really was a total mess and I wasn’t just being overly house proud (to be fair, we had builders in ripping the back wall section off so everything was stacked in the living room and it was a bit *ahem* dusty).  The same could be said of the garden right now, it’s a bit of a mess, and I really do mean it there are weeds growing all over the place and the grass is about ready to make hay with.  I blame the last 2 weeks of school and pre-school with all the chaos that, that brings but even I was surprised how out of control things can get in such a short time.

On the plus side, because we haven’t been in the garden each day, munching as we go there is a huge crop of the wild strawberries at the moment.  I am going to pick all the ripe ones today, some we will just eat but the rest are going into the bachelor’s jam I started a while ago.

The potatoes grown in the small (14 litre) grow bags have been a big hit, there is no question that this is how I will grow all my potatoes from now on with a single chitted tuber per bag.  Being able to tip it out, have the boys rummage for the contents and have enough for a meal or two is great.

This is the crop (Charlotte variety) from a single bag, the bowl is a very large salad one so you can get an idea of the quantity.

As well as potatoes and strawberries we are also eating courgettes, salad, spring onions, herbs, the last of the broad beans and peas and carrots right now.  The tomatoes and cucumbers are running very late, next year I will probably leave them to get started in the greenhouse for a lot longer, before moving them outdoors.

I have picked the redcurrants, we have 2 bushes in amongst the border of the vegetable patch and they have provided about 2 kilos of fruit each (and that’s leaving a few for the birds).  Half of his has been turned into redcurrant jelly and the rest has been put into the freezer, some as whole fruit and some as strained juice, I simply didn’t have time to deal with it all right now.

I made yet more jam with the final blackcurrants and packed some up for teachers gifts.  The boys helped pick the berries and weigh out the sugar and stir the jam etc.  I made little ‘blackcurrant’ coloured birds for the packaging and then had F write out thank you tags (this was the hardest bit, he’s not keen on writing!).

And so, we are now on the first day of the long summer holidays; I’d like to fall into last years routine of sectioning the day up and getting a little of my chores done as well as entertaining the boys but it may not work out that way.  I hope to sew for the next hour and then once it’s warmed up outside try and sell the boys on the paddling pool as today’s entertainment with maybe a walk later, that way I can attempt to tidy the garden and feel less guilty about the mess.  Perhaps a little ice cream bribe in the afternoon will do the trick 🙂

July Eating…

Oh this is the bit I enjoy the best, popping into the garden with the boys and picking things to eat together.

I was home alone with the boys last weekend and decided to cook a roast lunch.  This is something I’d like to do every weekend, I was brought up with a roast lunch on Sundays and have very fond memories of this family event.  It was a highlight when returning home as a student and even now, when we are back visiting I still really look forward to Sunday lunch together.  I’d love my boys to grow up with a similar memories, especially as like many modern families we don’t spend a lot of time eating together during the week.

I decided to try broad beans from the garden on the boys, we were having roast beef (their choice) and I opted for the old fashioned broad beans in parsley sauce as an introduction for F (6) as he generally isn’t all that keen in any vegetable other than carrots.   This combination really does remind me of home and my childhood and along with cauliflower cheese, and braised celery often appeared on our table.  C (4) was very taken but sadly F refused to even try them.  Shame.

One thing F does eat well are new potatoes so today we have grubbed our first ones out of one the large bags.  These are the Anya variety planted early this year.  We simply pulled the loose soil away from the top of the bag and gently removed enough tubers for one meal, without damaging the plant stems, then we returned the soil to keep the other undisturbed potatoes snug for another day.  We are going to eat them boiled and buttered with some mint from the garden and I am sooooo looking forward to it.

I wanted to include a quick photo here of the Inca Bella flowers, I wasn’t expecting anything different from the usual white potato flowers but I am pleasantly surprised by these lovely purple and yellow blooms.

As it’s such a lovely sunny day we are going to have poached salmon, with the Anya potatoes and a nice salad to include, from the garden;  courgettes, broad beans, peas (raw), mint and feta cheese.  The peas are from the Sugar Snaps that I have let get slightly too big, although at the rate the boys are eating them raw they may not make it to the salad.  In fact this is another minor miracle moment as F hates peas with a passion but has just been converted to raw ones, this along with last years eating corn-on-the-cob, even though he wont touch the tinned variety, do make it all worth while 🙂

April vegetable planting lists…

We’ve had a glorious start to the Easter Holidays and have spent most of the time so far in the garden.  The timing couldn’t have been better as F started with Chicken Pox last Thursday and being able to send him outside to play (when he has been well enough) has taken the strain out of housebound kids.

As C was in full health, I went to his end of term concert on the Friday and we took a bunch of Narcissi from the cutting patch along with a chocolate Lindt bunny for his Key Worker.  These Narcissi are among the first flowers to appear in the garden and as well as a line grown for cut flowers I have many scattered across the garden, both under the trees and in the beds; they are the ‘Geranium’ variety and I love them, they also smell fantastic!  I spent quite a lot of money on bulbs when we first moved here and I’m pleased I did, the tulips are opening at the moment to provide some colour and they will then be replaced with the Alliums.  Although I haven’t added any extra bulbs for a couple of years, I plan to put more in next September now I know exactly where the gaps in my planting are.

The greenhouse is starting to look busy and in addition to the already planted and germinating Tomatoes, Aubergines, Peppers and Chillies (which were moved out of the house once the nights warmed up) I have added:

Cucumbers ‘Burpless Tasty Green’ & ‘Diva’

3 of each in larger pots, although the Diva are showing no signs of germinating at the moment

Sweetcorn ‘Sweet Nugget’

16 altogether, again in decent sized pots so the roots wont be disturbed when transplanting them.  I’ve bravely only planted 1 kernel per pot, I’ll plant more if they don’t germinate as ideally I need a grid of at least 4 x 4 for the wind pollination that they need to ame sure we get cobs full of kernels.

Melons ‘Edonis

These were so good last year, I’ve planted 3 pots for hopefully 2 melons per plant.

Courgettes ‘Soliel’ & ‘Defender’

2 pots of each (2 seeds per pot so one can be thrown away of they both germinate)

Pak Choi ‘Joi Choi

1 pot with a few seeds for transplanting out later.

I have quite a few herbs to plant up but for now I’ve started with Lemon Grass I’ll get around the rest later…maybe.  I’ve also planted a gutter with Peas ‘Sugar Snap’ in a grid of three lines planted 5 cm apart in rows 5 cm apart.  These will go out as soon as they get going but after the mice are tempted to remove them!

Finally, I’ve planted up a large seed tray of mixed lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard and Rocket, these will be moved outside as seedlings in a few weeks and in order to stop them being munched immediately I’ve ordered the first batch of slug nematodes.  I’d rather get rid of the little critters before they even get going and then repeat every few weeks until we are out of this mild wet weather.

July Eating…

It would appear I am slipping well behind with my blog posts, the above photo was taken back in mid June, after I had removed the outer skin of my first garlic, having left them for a few weeks to dry out in the greenhouse.  They are now plaited and hanging in my kitchen (better than last years solution!)

I have since pulled all remaining garlic and shallots, which are a bit weeny this year, quite frankly due to lack of water but they are still tasty and will keep us going for some time.

The beetroot from both the first (planted in gutters in the greenhouse) sowing and the second from May is ready.  I pretty much always boil or roast them,  then slice and eat with Feta cheese, Marjoram and an olive oil and balsamic dressing.  I really should try something new but I do like beetroot this way.

The first of the tomatoes are ready, there seems very little difference between the ones grown in the greenhouse and outside, all are cropping at a similar time, which rather surprises me.

The Alpine strawberries are still providing lots of little treats, you have to be quick though

as C is a strawberry addict.

We are also eating cucumbers, spring onions, courgettes, red onions and salad at an alarming rate.  I confess that already a few cucumbers have ended up in the bin, despite the fact we eat at least one a day (well, C does).

My blog is not the only neglected thing around here, the garden itself is in desperate need of attention, there is little point starting any new planting as we are away here and there and the total lack of rain here means new crops are quite high maintenance until they get going.  So, I guess there may be a few gaps in a couple of months but for now I will simply enjoy eating our lovely ready produce.

Tomatoes & Late Frosts…

Well, as predicted we suffered from some late frosts over the past few weeks, I had been keeping an eye on the overnight temperatures so managed to protect most of the tender vegetables with cloches (namely the squash, beans, potatoes and some tomatoes I had planted out), sadly I ran out of cloches for the courgettes and they have died a rather dismal death!  I have replaced 2 of the 4 with my ‘mystery’ seedlings from the germinated squash/courgette/cucumber seeds that had been returned to the compost pot and the other 2 I have left to see of any life returns (although I still have some ‘unknowns’ to pop in later if they don’t recover).

Also, I’ve struggled to germinate all my sweet corn, you need to plant in blocks of a minimum of 9, ideally 12 to get wind pollination so I have ordered and planted new seed of the same variety in the hope they can catch up with the 5 that have germinated.  Annoyingly it took 10 days for these seeds to arrive so there is definitely going to be a gap, I fear this may effect how many kernels I get but as always, time will tell.

The big success has been the tomatoes, they recovered amazingly well from their earlier floppy selves after being planted in larger pots very deeply and removing the seed leaves.  I have potted most up into their final ‘buckets’ with some JI No 2, the Brandywine and Tigerella are for growing in the greenhouse and the San Marzone, 100’s & 1000’s and Sungold are for outside.  For the first time I am growing some in the raised beds, there are a few gaps in my cut flower beds that I have decided to fill with vegetables as I’d rather that then they go empty.

They need staking and their side shoots have to be pinched out as they grow (the jaunty stem growing at an angle between the main stalk and the side stems), once they flower I will feed them once a week and keep tying them in to stop them falling over.  I will also pinch out the growing tips once there are about 6 trusses of flower.  More here on all that.

I think a quick photo update of the beds is best as I’ve lost track of what is and isn’t planted, for now I’m off the make the most of the beautiful sunshine while it lasts 🙂